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​​​Success in School Issue12345

Obeying Teachers and Following Rules

The problems children experience in school often have ​little to do with their academic abilities. Instead, problems ​may be related to a child’s inability to use certain social skills successfully. For example, many children who perform poorly in the classroom don’t know how to use the basic social skill of ​following instructions.

Obeying teachers and following the rules are fundamental to academic success — though a child may not be able to make that correlation easily. Therefore, as a parent, it is up to you to help your child understand this. Here are three steps to help you child understand the social skills of following instructions.

Setting Expectations

When children misbehave in school, it’s either because they don’t understand the rules or choose to ignore them. As with any desired action or behavior, the adult authority figure — whether it’s the parent at home or the teacher at school — must make the child aware of what’s expected of them. After all, how can a child be expected to follow the rules if they don’t understand what they are in the first place?

Making your children aware of their school’s code of conduct and reviewing it with them from time to time can head off many problems and make their life at school smoother. In addition, your children should be taught from an early age that ​adult authority figures must be obeyed and respected. Ideally, this should be taught well before your child reaches school age.

Issuing Negative Consequences

If a child chooses to ignore known rules simply because they don’t feel like following them, then this is a completely different issue. Instead of not knowing the rules, they are exhibiting a deliberately negative behavior that requires a negative consequence. One of the quickest ways to correct a negative behavior is to remove a privilege — especially one that involves the use of a personal electronic device, such as a smartphone, tablet or video game console. You’ll be surprised at how fast a once-defiant child comes around if you take away their ability to text and chat with friends.

The key is to deliver this negative consequence dispassionately, like a police officer giving out a speeding ticket. You don’t want to risk escalating the situation by arguing with your child. Instead, calmly explain the infraction, issue the negative consequence and explain how your child can regain the privilege.

Catch Them Being Good

It’s easy to take notice when children are doing something wrong. After all, if this is (hopefully) not a normal situation, it naturally will call attention to itself. But if all you do is criticize your child and issue negative consequences, you run the risk of reinforcing in your child a feeling that they are inherently bad in some way and that using bad behavior should be the norm.

Instead, we tell parents to try to “catch them being good” and praise them when it happens. In fact, we recommend issuing four instances of praise for every negative consequence. So, if your child keeps their room clean, praise them for it. If they bring home a good grade on a test, praise them for that, too. If they get through a family meal without fighting or arguing with a sibling, praise them. We’ve even developed a downloadable tool that lists creative ways to reward your children for being good.

Teaching Activity

Role-Playing Following Instructions

In the Social Skill section below, you’ll find simple steps for the skill of following instructions. Once your child understands the steps, role-play various scenarios in which instructions should be followed. For fun, you might start out with your child in the authority role, giving you an instruction to carry out. You can then model how this is done, based on the steps below. Repeat the activity with a variety of scenarios that provide opportunities for your child to practice the skill until they have it down.

Social Skill

Following Instructions

Following instructions is probably the most important basic social skill children can learn. Once they master ​it, ​life at home and at school will become exponentially easier for the child and their parents and teachers.

  1. Look at the person.

  2. Say, “Okay.”

  3. Do what you’ve been asked right away.

  4. Check back to let the person know you’ve followed their instructions.

Coming up in Issue 2

Peer Pressure and Getting Along with Classmates


12 Days of Integrity


Resisting Peer Pressure

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